Can stemless glasses stand up to criticism?

December 01, 2004|By Ashley Burrell | Ashley Burrell,SUN STAFF

Wine connoisseurs have dedicated years of painstaking study to discovering how the shape of a glass affects the bouquet, taste, balance and finish of a wine.

Now Riedel Crystal, the first glassmaker to develop the concept of different shaped glasses for different wines, has introduced a new series that goes against conventional wisdom - the glasses don't have stems.

"These glasses are designed to emphasize a wine's harmony, not faults," said Maximilian Riedel, an 11th-generation Riedel glassmaker and creator of the new Riedel O series.

His innovation has received mixed reviews.

"They're awful," said Jerry Pellegrino, chef and owner of Corks restaurant. "These stemless wineglasses will affect the way you perceive the wine."

Pellegrino said that the best place to hold the wineglass is at the stem, and that the Riedel O glasses are awkward to hold.

But Tony Foreman and Cindy Wolf will be using only the stemless glasses at Pazo, their new western Mediterranean-style restaurant on 1425 Aliceanna St.

"This is an elegant version of a wine jar used in the more simpler places around the world," said Foreman, who is co-owner of Bin 604 wine store and is a partner with Wolf in Petit Louis and the Charleston restaurants.

The glasses in the series come in six styles that retain the familiar differences for glasses for red and white wines. They sell for $20 to $25 a pair.

Riedel said the inspiration for the glass came while he was moving from a house on Long Island, N.Y., to New Jersey.

"I realized how much space the glasses took in the cupboard," said Riedel, whose family has been making wineglasses since the 17th century. "I thought, if I chopped off the stems, the glasses could be easily stacked and also put into the dishwasher."

Skeptics argue that the stemless glass will make the wine grow warm from the temperature of the hand. But Riedel said the glasses are meant to be held by the fingertips above the wine level, not cupped in the palm. In any case, he said, the taste of the wine won't be affected.

Foreman agreed, saying, "The fact that there's no stems will definitely change the temperature of the wine, but we [Pazo] are careful about storing the wine in the right temperature, and from the time we serve it to the time you hold it in your hand, it will only rise about 3 to 4 degrees, which will not make a difference in taste."

Foreman said he chose the O glasses because they seemed more in keeping with the rustic European dining style he's trying to emulate at his new restaurant.

"In our travels to places like Barcelona, we have seen wineglasses like jars, and we have a real affection for that style of service," said Foreman.

"Some customers will think this is a modernist venture, and some will say I'm a lunatic, but I'm hoping for a variety of reactions to keep things interesting," he added.

Both Foreman and Riedel agree that the stemless wineglasses will not replace the traditional ones.

"It is a fun and uncomplicated alternative for everyday use and every occasion," Riedel said.

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